When it comes to exceptional natural skincare, repurposed coffee doesn’t immediately spring to mind, that is until you come across the sibling duo at UpCircle Beauty. With a mission to reduce coffee waste and a meticulous knowledge of the potent benefits of coffee grounds, Anna and William Brightman built a skincare brand around the concept of repurposed ingredients. We find out the pros of coffee waste for our skin, the shift towards clean beauty, and the miracle skincare concoctions coming from UpCircle Beauty.
How did UpCircle come about?
The idea came about from wanting to repurpose coffee grounds. Living in a flat in Central London and making our own coffee in the mornings we realised we didn’t have anywhere to compost our coffee. We thought about what this issue must be like on a bigger scale, and asked cafes what they did with their coffee waste. It turns out they have to pay the council to remove it. Shockingly 500,000 tonnes of coffee are ending up in landfills every year in the U.K alone. Like many people I assumed coffee naturally biodegrades, which it does, but only in very specific quantities and under certain conditions. When these coffee shops are throwing their coffee away in giant bin bags it's actually rotting to produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas. All of sudden we became aware of this environmental issue which we had never really considered before. As a teenager I wanted to be a makeup artist, so I was familiar with the fact that coffee is brilliant for your skin - it's natural exfoliator, packed with antioxidants, and it doesn't dry your skin out. There was absolutely no skincare brand on the market that could offer a coffee scrub from repurposed coffee grounds at scale. We saw a real gap there and decided we would try making our own. Once we were able to see that everybody loved the idea and the product we quit our jobs and went full time with it.
How do you balance sustainability with quality skincare at UpCircle?
We only use natural, sustainable, ethically-sourced, vegan, and cruelty-free ingredients. Everything we put out is handmade in the U.K and we work with certified organic manufacturers, so we place great value on the ingredients we use. The level of antioxidants in brewed coffee is actually even higher than fresh coffee, in fact using repurposed coffee doesn’t deplete the quality of our products in any way. We do add other ingredients, but we always ensure we have the greatest level of diligence when it comes to those ingredients. When we moved on to making our chai tea soap bars we repurposed chai tea spices. The spices had already been used to brew chai tea but still retained their gorgeous scent after that process was over – so we use them as the natural fragrance in our soaps. If we ever include an ingredient in our products that becomes unsustainable we will remove it. For example, we used to have a vanilla scrub but then we found out that vanilla was no longer a viable option. We reformulated the product and released it as a Cacao scrub instead. We are always ensuring the ingredients that we use are high quality and sustainable at the same time.
Do you have advice for people who want to reuse products they have at home which would otherwise be wasted?
This is something we really promote and encourage people to have a go at. Our whole ethos is based on recognisable ingredients that you will most likely find in your kitchen. It’s about keeping it simple and going back to basics. We believe if you wouldn’t want to eat something then why wouldn't you put it on your skin? In terms of advice, I would recommend that people experiment and see what works for them. We share lots of DIY recipes on our blog, as well as skincare tips and hacks. It’s a really good resource for people to explore. We're not trying to hide the simplicity of what we're doing – in the name of transparency we want to encourage people to have a go at doing it themselves!
What do you think people fail to see when they buy everyday skincare products which aren't natural?
I think one boundary we face at the minute is the cost of natural, ethical, high-quality products, which are inevitably more expensive compared to the average unnatural equivalent. You might be spending a little more for a natural product, but what your skin gets from it usually justifies the price difference - it could, for example, be a longer lasting product. As another example an unnatural product might strip your skin of moisture, so in order to combat that you have to buy another product. At UpCircle, we always ensure that our products have a balanced effect on your skin. For example, sometimes soap bars can leave your skin feeling a little tight and dry, but with our soaps we use a shea butter and coconut oil base to ensure that your skin is left feeling both clean and nourished.
Do you think there are some things which you just can't substitute when it comes to skincare?
There are always different avenues to take when it comes to choosing your products. With exfoliators for example you can choose a chemical peel or a natural physical peel. It comes down to what suits your skin best and that's something for each individual to figure out. At UpCircle we're all about natural beauty and I think for the vast majority of the population there is no reason that natural beauty can’t suffice. Of course, with certain extreme skin conditions doctors might advise you to take an unnatural route and again that's the individual’s decision. I would never want to advise against that. The consumer trend at the moment is shifting much more towards natural beauty and that shift will take time. It's much like the vegan shift - for a long time that was arguably a “niche” preference, and now it's hit the mainstream in a big way.
Are you working on new products currently?
We just released our Cacao body scrub and we've got a chocolate charcoal soap bar coming out soon. We are also creating a new moisturising face range from a completely new category of repurposed ingredients. It includes a cleansing balm, a facial moisturiser, and a face mask; each of which have been made from repurposed discarded fruit stones. Things like avocado, apricot, and olive stones. The stones are high in lipids therefore they're very moisturising – perfect for facial products. They are also very high in antioxidants. We're just in branding stage at the moment but we're pushing for Christmas launches.
If you had to choose only one product to take with you on a desert island from your range what would it be?
Tricky! I think I would have to go for the face serum - it's our current bestseller. It's just a little miracle product to be honest - it's certified organic and made from the oil that's extracted from the coffee grounds. What's good about it is that coffee oil itself has no scent, so if you're someone who doesn't actually like coffee or you find the coffee scent a little overpowering then you can get the benefits of the coffee without the strong smell. The scent of our oil actually comes from much more delicate oils added to it like rosehip and geranium. The serum is packed with vitamins and it's highly moisturising. The caffeine in it works wonders for things like dark circles and brightening up your complexion. It's a very gentle and lightweight oil that really sinks in - it doesn't make your skin look shiny! It's quite versatile so you can use it at any time of day and it doubles up as a hair oil too – what’s not to love?
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